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P&S Journal

P&S Journal: Spring 1996, Vol.16, No.2
The P&S Club: A Century of Service (And a Healthy Dose of Fun)

By George Hunka

"To see the work of the P&S Club operating in the medical school is to realize that it contributes an irreplaceable influence among the students today."
-Dr. Edward Cathcart in "What the Professors Say" 1935
The P&S Club was started when the college was located on 59th Street.

It started out as a student chapter of the YMCA and is widely considered the most active and comprehensive student activities organization in American medical education today. The P&S Club, then as now, is a one-of-a-kind organization. Recognizing that the medical student has interests outside the classroom, the P&S Club has spent the past 100 years sponsoring social and cultural events that bring students closer to their colleagues, their profession, and their community.

The history of an organization is always more than just a list of dates and events. It is a flow and ebb of participation and spirit, a small snapshot of changes in time and emphasis. This is true of the P&S Club, which, at its founding, was not called the P&S Club and was only marginally connected to the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

1894-1911: Genesis

On Dec. 15, 1894, John R. Mott, then the student secretary of the North American YMCA and later the winner of the 1946 Nobel Peace Prize, met with a group of 15 P&S students interested in forming a student chapter of the YMCA at P&S.

At first the organization, without a permanent home, sponsored student lectures and presentations, many of them religious. Speakers discussed topics such as the idea of self-sacrifice in the Bible's Book of Luke and the "Fellowship of the Christian Spirit."

In 1904, the "P&S Y," as it was then known, purchased property at 328 W. 56th St. The association began to provide meals to students, and by 1910 it was sponsoring such activities as a Bible study group, a band, free medical exams for Boy Scouts, and a rooming referral service for students from out of town. The P&S Y rented rooms on its building's upper floors to students, the income from which offset operating expenses. The P&S Y also maintained a library, a reading room, a restaurant, and meeting rooms on the site.

1911-1923: The "Labrador Launch"

By 1911, the P&S Y, now 125 members strong, had decided to change its name to reflect its increasingly independent status and now called itself the "P&S Club." The most characteristic activity of the years leading up to the club's relocation to Washington Heights was missionary work.

Students were most intrigued with the work of Sir Wilfred Grenfell, who worked in Labrador delivering medical services to Eskimo and Indian fishermen on isolated islands along the country's coast. A fund-raising drive led in 1917 to the purchase of a launch which, upon its delivery in the spring, was immediately put to the test by P&S students on cruises and picnics on the Hudson River. The recreational use of the launch was short-lived, however. In May, two senior P&S students accompanied the launch on board a steamer and finally to delivery in Labrador, where it (and the students) were placed at the disposal of Sir Wilfred. For many years afterward, the P&S Club annually sent a small team of students to staff the launch.

An emphasis on missionary work accompanied the P&S Club on its move in 1923 to larger quarters at 346 W. 57th St. Programs from the era list speakers such as Princeton University professor of biology Edward Grant Conklin and Dr. W.J. (Bill) Barns, a medical missionary to China. With the close of the Roaring '20s, however, came another move .

1928-1945: Bard Hall

The College of Physicians and Surgeons moved to Washington Heights in 1928 and the P&S Club moved with it, taking possession of new quarters at 100 Haven Avenue. A few short years later,˙however, Bard Hall was completed. The club, along with 371 members, took residence at Bard Hall in 1931, and activities continued under the aegis of the intercollegiate branch of the YMCA.

With America's entry into World War II in 1941, the club found its activities subsumed under homefront war efforts. The Army and Navy began to provide training programs for P&S students, and the Army sponsored movies and athletic programs, nudging the P&S Club's work into the margins of medical school life. A board of advisers, distinguished by the membership of people such as Edgar Grimm Miller and Aura E. Severinghaus, kept the club intact through the allied victory in 1945.

1946-1970: Keeping Up With the Times

On March 31, 1949, a group of P&S students gathered in the main lounge of Bard Hall to listen to former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt discuss a new-fangled concept called the "United Nations." As was tradition, a few students might have gathered for a P&S Club-sponsored "Classical Music Hour" and listened to an LP of Beethoven's "Ninth." Adjusting to the realities of a new postwar world, P&S students stepped gingerly, as did the rest of the country, into the 1950s.

The decade began with the collection of $1,222.83 in cash, which was sent to help purchase laboratory equipment at the University Medical School of Thessalonika, Greece. 1951 also saw the appointment of the first official director of the P&S Club, Chilton McFeters. McFeters, an ordained minister and the holder of a Ph.D. in philosophy, divided his time between the club and the YMCA at New York University but still found time enough to strengthen the club, establishing the Vesper series of visiting speakers.

That McFeters placed renewed emphasis on the religious aspects of club activities is proved by the P&S Club-sponsored Religion and Medicine Conference, held in October 1954. Delegations from 14 medical schools and theological seminaries converged on Bard Hall to discuss "Common Ground and Conflict." Although McFeters departed that same year, the Religion and Medicine Committee continued to sponsor presentations occasionally.

1954-55 brochure

It wasn't all religion, though. The P&S Club also sponsored an annual yearbook (subsidizing the 1953 edition at a loss to the club of $200), an annual theater party (the 1952 offering was "The King and I"), and athletic activities, including boxing and swimming.

Scenes from modern-day P&S Club activities
It was clear that the P&S Club needed a full-time director, and in 1955 the college provided funds for the salary of Edwin M. Barton. Under his leadership, the club expanded further. It continued its missionary work by collecting medical textbooks for shipment overseas to medical schools in Afghanistan, West Pakistan, Korea, Guatemala, and Haiti. The first P&S Club Arts Festival was held in 1965, stimulating the creative resources of amateur painters, sculptors, and writers among the student body.

But the country was changing. The certainties of the postwar world were eroding with the passage of time, and the P&S Club, as campus unrest began to ferment, found itself adrift. The first harbinger of change was the YMCA's withdrawal of its support for the P&S Club in 1966. To fill the gap, the P&S Alumni Association began taking fiscal responsibility for the club. Over the next few years, speakers series, discussion programs, and artistic series increased. In 1969, Dr. Barton, by then the director of student activities, became the general director of the P&S Club's Mercy Project, which provided medical treatment to more than a thousand children victimized by the war between Biafra and Nigeria.

But back home, explains David T.W. Chiu'73, now the Zimmer Professor of Reconstructive Surgery and chief of the plastic surgery division, things weren't so well organized.

1971-1973: The Spirit of Volunteerism

"I enrolled in medical school in 1969," Dr. Chiu remembers. "It's hard to remember what kind of activities the P&S Club sponsored. There was Orientation Week, of course, and a few mixers and a Christmas party. I remember one Friday evening I was watching a Charlie Chaplin film in Bard Hall and noticed that the screen was ripped and yellowed. Student facilities were very limited. I played the cello, but there wasn't even a music room for me to practice in."

Dr. Chiu's involvement in the P&S Club grew, and by his third year he was its vice president, under the leadership of another student, Phil Hilbert. The two began to analyze the reasons for the "meagerness," as Dr. Chiu puts it, of student programs at the time. "First, the club was run under the aegis of an administration figure, the director of student activities. Whenever there was a party, the director of student activities would hire a small band and pay four or five students to set up chairs and so on. Every activity was actually paid for by the student activities office, yet there were no organized fund-raising activities. The Bard Hall Players managed to produce a couple of musicals annually, but the scope and scale definitely fell short of the potential of the talents among the student body.

"We feel that the 'well-rounded doctor' is not a myth at P&S and that the P&S Club organization plays a major role in achieving such a goal."
-"The P&S Club Today" by Martin Sorger'60, President, P&S Club, in P&S Alumni Association Bulletin, March 1960
"So Phil and I tried to come up with ways we could improve the program of student activities both quantitatively and qualitatively," Dr. Chiu continues. "The director of student activities was a good and kind man, and we all loved him, but he was extremely busy. We rarely saw him, and he seemed to have lost touch somewhat with student life."

When Dr. Chiu became president of the P&S Club during his senior year, he decided to institute several philosophical changes. First, he believed that the P&S Club should be run by the students and for the students. Second, the P&S Club should be financially self-sufficient, which meant fund-raising appeals to parents and alumni. Finally, Dr. Chiu stressed the idea of voluntary cooperation between club members. This meant that the student activities office had to be abolished and that P&S Club members--the entire student body--had to become more responsible for their own recreational activities.

Dr. Chiu credits Dr. Donald Tapley, alumni professor of medicine, with a great deal of support for these changes, but most important, the attitude of the students themselves finally changed. "The first major test was the 1971 Christmas party," Dr. Chiu recalls. "I posted a sign-up sheet for volunteers, and by the day of the party there were only four names, among them those of Kris Kringle and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. So by the evening of the Christmas party, nothing had been done. Several students and I gathered at the beginning of the evening and just stood there. Then I said, 'Let's start,' and I started moving chairs around. Within five minutes, everybody was moving chairs and tables, preparing for the Christmas party. The main difference this time is that nobody was being paid to do it. This was the turning point, I believe."

Dr. Chiu remembers his time as president of the P&S Club with fondness, admitting that he is proud of the work he did. By the time of his graduation in 1973, the P&S Club fund had grown to more than $50,000, which supported a new rugby club ("After our first game, four of our students ended up in the emergency room," Dr. Chiu remembers), a chamber music group, a choir, a community youth work organization, a medical history society, an expanded Bard Hall Players, and several other organizations.

"What's more, membership in the P&S Club was good training for me," Dr. Chiu reflects. "It's a very constructive organization and provides excellent training for a medical career. You're doing something for your peers, making a contribution to the profession. What's more, it demonstrates what dedication and service can mean to a community. And isn't that what the practice of medicine is all about?"

1973-1996: To the 21st Century

The P&S Club now distributes funds to more than 30 student organizations, says 1995-96 P&S Club president Sean Bidic'96. "The most recent additions to the list are the Holocaust Remembrance Society, Philosophy Club, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Crescent Society." Mr. Bidic says. "So the activities of the P&S Club continue to broaden."

Mr. Bidic sees his role as president as a mandate to "improve the quality of student life at P&S and Bard Hall. I mean, let's face it: It's challenging to find non-academic pursuits in Washington Heights," Mr. Bidic says. "We succeed in providing academic, athletic, social, cultural, and religious outlets to every student. We encourage and support enhancement of the many skills and talents P&S students have outside of science."

He firmly believes in the voluntary nature of P&S Club membership as Dr. Chiu defined it but also is grateful for the continuing support of other parts of the medical school for the ongoing work of the club. "We get excellent, dedicated support from faculty and alumni. We couldn't do anything without that. And there remains so much more to be done," Mr. Bidic says.

The new century will bring new challenges and responsibilities for the P&S Club. The New York in which the P&S Club was born more than a hundred years ago has changed in ways that Dr. Mott could not possibly have foreseen; it is doubtful that Mr. Bidic would be able to recognize in 2096 the Washington Heights/Inwood neighborhood in which he is studying medicine today. But with the ongoing dedication and spirit of P&S Club members, the new century will undoubtedly provide new opportunities as well as challenges for the P&S student. The future of the P&S Club holds as much fascination and purpose as its past.

Support for the P&S Club

The P&S Club, an umbrella organization for more than 30 extracurricular activities, has been called unique in American medical education.

Now starting its second century, the P&S Club sponsors social, political, cultural, athletic, and spiritual activities run entirely by students. The club is geared toward rounding out the medical school experience by providing students an emotional outlet from the rigors of medical school and nourishing their minds, bodies, and souls.

The P&S Club receives funding from parents and faculty, the P&S Alumni Association, the Severinghaus fund, and the Koerber Endowment. In 1992, Dr. Donald Tapley, senior deputy vice president for health sciences, and Katarina Eisinger'93 established the P&S Club Endowment to secure the club's future.

Tax-deductible contributions may be earmarked for the endowment or the general operating fund.
P&S Club
Bard Hall, 50 Haven Avenue, New York, NY 10032
100th Anniversary Fund Drive
Enclosed is my check for $
I wish to pledge my gift as follows:
to P&S Club operation account, payable to Columbia University
(helps support current programs)
p to P&S Club Endowment Fund, payable to CPMC Fund
(helps safeguard future programs)
Name Date
Mailing Address
Gifts to the P&S Club are tax-deductible.

P&S students help the P&S Club raise money for operations and an endowment by adding hand-written notes to fund-raising appeals.

1995-1996 P&S Club GroupsAikido
Groups that comprise the 1995-1996 P&S Clubs
American Medical
Association-Medical Student Section
American Medical
Student Association
American Medical Women's Association
Black and Latin Students Organization
Bard Hall Players
Children's Players
Cocktail Club
Coffeehouse Cabaret
Columbia Asian
Organization
Columbia Christian
Fellowship
Columbia Medical Roadrunners
Columbia Neurosciences Journal Club
Columbia Neurosciences Society
CPMC Women's Resource Center
Emergency Medicine Club
Family Practice Interest Group
Free Weight Club
Holocaust
Remembrance
Society
Lambda Health Alliance
Medical Students for Choice
Organization of Humanistic Medicine
Outdoor Club
P&S Chess Club
P&S Medical Review
P&S Musicians' Guild
Photography Club
Physicians for Social Responsibility
Raphael Society
Reflexions
REMEDY (Recovered Medical Equipment for the Developing World)
Rugby Football Club
Soccer
Society of Bacchus
Walker Percy Society


copyright ©, Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center

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